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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Hunters (Penguin Modern Classics)
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2007
If you've never read James Salter before and always liked the spare style of Hemingway but longed for an heir with a more modern sensibility Salter is the writer for you. This brilliant, page-turning book puts you in the cock-pit like no other. First published in 1956 and reissued this year alongside 4 other titles, you'll be hard pressed to read a better novel this year - unless you follow it up by reading his Light Years from the 70s. Discover James Salter and encounter a clarity of prose and emotional depth you'll be hard-pressed to match.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2007
I've never seen it, but there was apparently a film made of this book in the late 50s, which by all accounts is Not Very Good - the usual Hollywood desire to "give it a happy ending" being the least of its sins.

Which is ironic, because if ever there was a book that could be filmed EXACTLY "AS IS", all dialogue word-for-word, this is it. It's short enough, it has enough action - dammit, it *reads* like watching a great film!

Which, on reflection means that perhaps it doesn't need a "sex-and-CGI"-heavy remake at all. Just read the book - you can do it in one sitting, and believe me, you'll want to - it is THAT great.

It's up there with John Hersey's "The War Lover" and Derek Robinson's "Piece Of Cake" among the best air war novels of all time.

Excellent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2012
Like a lot of other people I've seen the film of "The Hunters", made in 1958, with Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner, and ostensibly based upon the novel of the same name by James Salter. Though I'm an aviation fanatic, I thought the film was rubbish, and so felt no great impulse to seek out the novel from which it was drawn assuming, if I thought about it at all, that it was a schlocky paperback written for cretins.
Then, one day, I came across a profile of Salter in "Metro", the free paper. He looked interesting - a U.S.A.F. Korean war veteran who flew Sabres against North Korean MiGs and who later took up writing. A bit like Antoine de St. Exupery, another hero of mine, I supposed. So when I came across a copy of "The Hunters" I bought it. And am I glad I did. It's one of the finest novels I've ever read.

It's the story of Capt. Cleve Connell, a pilot once thought of as a "hot-shot" but, at 31 and with no combat experience, over the hill for fighters in the jet age. He struggles to keep up with the others in the hostile skies over Korea, straining his eyes to see what others always spot before he does, trying to break his duck but never succeeding - except nearly once, when he has to leave the kill he is about to get in order to save another pilot. Through his eyes (and, one suspects, through Salter's own real eyes, from his days in Korea) we see the corruption of the military as one pilot singled out for praise and career promotion is awarded kills he didn't get, while really good pilots get passed over and ignored until they're posted or killed.
Though the style of writing is superficially reminiscent of Hemingway in its short, clipped and sparing prose, it is nevertheless reflective and poignant, giving real depth and life to the character of Cleve, who spends much of his time ruminating upon the past and the follies of the present -

"Cleve closed his eyes. There had been many ambitions, all of them true at the time. They were scattered behind him like the ashes of old campfires, though he had warmed himself at every one of them".

If that isn't a perfect description of what we all feel about the past, I don't know what is.

I won't spoil the ending by saying what happens, but it is of a piece with the rest of the book, and left me silent and pensive for a long, long time.
Apparently in later life Salter dismissed this and others of his early works as jejeune and unworthy of his "proper" oeuvres, but I think he was wrong to do this. "The Hunters" stands out as a truly magnificent work, of a kind that any writer should be proud to have written.
Read it for yourself, and if you don't agree with me I'll pull my trousers off over my head.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2004
James Salter's first novel is the story of Cleve, a fighter pilot in the Korean War. When first encountered, there is an intentness about him, coupled with a distinctly fatalistic strain; he is in Korea to make "a valedictory befitting his years", using his flying skills to hunt MiGs. But this is not the reality. In subtle, achingly authentic prose, Salter depicts Cleve's feelings of frustration and helplessness as fellow flyers get kills while so many of his own missions end without incident. Few novels about war are so completely engrossing or well-written. 'The Hunters' is a classic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 February 2015
This debut novel about an Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War was heavily based on Salter's own experiences. He flew a hundred F-86 missions during his 1952 tour and kept a detailed diary, which he drew heavily upon for the book. The story revolves around a seasoned pilot with a good reputation who is assigned to a combat zone for the first time. Although confident of his abilities and eager to prove himself, it's hard to become an ace (a designation awarded after five confirmed "kills") when the enemy doesn't come out to engage. As the story progresses, he grows more and more frustrated when his missions fail to result in enemy contact, and a brash younger pilot starts racking up the kills. (One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how the bureaucratic aspects of confirmation of kills plays out, and the PR benefits of fudging the truth outweigh all others. It's hard not to draw parallels with the "body count" legerdemain that became prevalent a decade later in Vietnam.) In many ways, the book can be read as a reflection on how life can sometimes be unjust in denying able and willing people the opportunity to prove themselves. Although I doubt this was intentional (Salter was only thirty when he wrote the book), it is a potent running theme. In that sense it's a "war" book in setting only, and is worth rediscovery. NOTE: There was a film made of it starring Robert Mitchum, but it's apparently quite different from the novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 1999
One of the best books by one of the century's best writers (wish he were more prolific). Veterans (I am one, though not a pilot) will understand it better than others, but you don't need to be a vet to love this book. Subtle and well written. His Burning the Days is great too
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2013
This is a magnificent novel, beautifully written in a style reminiscent of Hemingway or Dickey. "The Hunters" is a brilliant psychological insight into the mind of a fighter pilot during the Korean War, and Salter is to be applauded for the honesty with which he treats the subject. Semi-autobiographical (Salter flew F86 Sabre jet fighters in combat during the conflict), it is a book that runs a wide gamut of moods and emotions, from exhilaration and elation to frustration, anger and fear. The aerial sequences are simply amazing and some of the very, very best I have read of conveying the feeling and emotion of flight and (I would imagine) air combat. All of this is crafted with the most sublime writing and Salter's wonderful use of metaphor - he is a remarkable wordsmith. If you have an interest in air combat, you will thoroughly enjoy it, and if you enjoy a beautifully written American novel, you will thoroughly enjoy it. But if you like both of these things, you will simply adore "The Hunters".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2014
I may not be the best one to write a review as I have reached only chapter 7 and I'm finding it difficult to summon the energy to read further. This is not the "page turner" I was expecting. The prose is very "wordy" and consequently the story creeps along at a slow pace. I will finish it - eventaully - as so many others have said it is a good book. Perhaps I will change my mind.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2014
Only five years after WW2 the struggle to be recognised as an 'Ace' was fought out in the Korean skies. Many of the technical aspects of the aerial battle are fascinating such as the altitude supremacy enjoyed by the MiG fighters and, despite having 'jet' power, the armaments being limited to a mere eleven second burst of a machine-gun.

The author's description of the plot's 'performance' in the sky was interesting but not riveting. The lead character did not engage me and his sojourn in Japan added nothing to the book., His motivation is analysed, his failures and successes at 'kills' as a passionate 'hunter'. Yet several of the other pilots and air force life in general seemed slightly stereotypical. Nevertheless, the best writing is reserved for a strong finish to the novel.

Overall, a mixed-bag that could appeal to those with an existing interest in the Korean War or aerial combat.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2012
Cleve is a really good fighter pilot starting a tour of duty in the Korean War. This don't work out for him though. Others do better, or seem to do better. It's luck whether or not you encounter the enemy. And then what do other pilots do in your flight (do they need rescuing when you could be pursuing a kill?). And when you do shoot something down, has your film worked and/or will your wingman be able to confirm the hit? So: it's not easy....

James Salter gives us the essence of Cleve and his pursuit of excellence. The feelings after a hit. The feelings when no hit is in sight and looks as though it will ever come. The feelings when others - one way or another - get ahead of you. And when your boss doesn't care about the right things.

The writing also gives us Korea and brings it alive for us - the weather, the terrain, the experiences of flying; a period of leave in Japan (and a trip through Japan on the way to Korea) - what you give up when you decide actually being the best you can be as a fighter pilot is what gives most meaning to your life; and the experience of war as pilots go home and new ones arrive; and as pilots die. And the reality that you can't be a fighter pilot for ever (among other things, the eyesight will fail).

This is a very impressive novel.
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